All-day, every-day kindergarten coming to ISD 831 next fall

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

The Forest Lake School Board last Tuesday voted 6 to 1 to restore kindergarten to five days a week.

Beginning next fall, families will no longer have to pay to get their 5-year-olds to school every day.

Ever since 2004-2005, when the district discontinued half-day kindergarten because of transportation costs, families with kindergarten students have had two choices.

One is to have the child attend school all day, two days a week. Classes run Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday, with alternating Fridays.

The other choice is to pay the district for all-day, every-day kindergarten. The cost is $2,800 per year, or $1,700 for families qualifying for reduced-price lunches, $550 for those who receive free lunch.

Some families consider this well worth the expense, especially if both parents work. Others combine kindergarten with child care, and a third group enjoy having their youngsters home with a parent for a good chunk of the week.

But some families have found another option: Leave the district.

“I’m not sure we can afford not to do this,” said Superintendent Linda Madsen, “particularly in the Lino Lakes area.  If we lose students to another district at the kindergarten level, they typically stay in that district.”

The program is expected to cost the district about $500,000 per year.

Madsen said moving to a full kindergarten week is part of the district’s strategic plan. “Marketing is keeping students in the district and attracting students to the district,” she said.

School districts that already offer all-day, every-day kindergarten include Stillwater and St. Francis, she said, plus some schools in Anoka-Hennepin. Centennial, which shares a border with Forest Lake District 831 in Lino Lakes, is considering the idea.

Besides keeping students from taking their state education dollars elsewhere through open enrollment, another advantage of full-time kindergarten is fairness. All students get the same academic opportunity, not based on ability to pay.

Board member Kathy Bystrom said removing the cost barrier to full-time kindergarten is the biggest factor. “Before, for a lot of them it was a non-option because of cost,” she said.

“This can be a great springboard for long-term educational achievement,” said board member Erin Turner. “ It’s expensive at $300 a month, but I’ve had a lot of comments from people in the community, all positive.”

At a district-wide meeting, kindergarten teachers expressed support for the idea.

To accommodate parents who don’t want the change, families will be given the option of a short week: skip Monday and Friday; show up Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday.

But there’s a catch: The short-week kindergarten will be not be offered at every elementary school. Instead, if their numbers are sufficient to justify a section, these 5-year-olds will be bused to Forest Lake, riding secondary buses on the secondary school schedule. (This is how district residents get their kids bused to Lakes International Language Academy and St. Peter’s Catholic School.)

The secondary school day starts much earlier. In District 831, elementary schools hold classes from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The junior highs run from about 7:40 a.m. to about 2:10 p.m., and the high school goes from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Under the current plan, when these short-week kindergarteners enter first grade, they could go back to their home elementary schools or enroll in Central Montessori Elementary at the Central Learning Center in Forest Lake.

At the Dec. 6 board meeting, member Dan Kieger suggested offering the short-week option at local elementary schools if possible. “Put it in the kindergarten roundup information,” he said. “If there are enough at your school, you don’t have to travel.”

Board member Karen Morehead voted against the measure. “Not all parents appreciate having the kids gone all day every day,” she said in a phone conversation after the meeting. The school’s compromise, pulling kindergartners out of their local school and putting them on an earlier schedule, “didn’t do it for me,” she explained.

  • Megan Kulenkamp

    Not happy at all about this decision. My daughter did the all day every other day and went to the Enrichment program at Sunshine on her off days, it was perfect! Was hoping to do the same for my son who is suppose to attend Lino Lakes next fall. I was hoping to get 1 more year with him, since he will be going to school for the next 13 years all day. Upset that we are just hearing about this now. Where was the letter to inform us about the talk? Parents should have been able to go to the meeting and voice their opinion. If I would have known this was going to happen, I would have sent my kids to another school. I really think with this just getting sprung on us parents, is that you should still offer a every other day, or T,W,TH at all schools. Why would we want to have our kids go to 1 school for Kindergarten and then switch them to there original school? Do you really think that would be the right thing to do for a child? Not a good option. Very upset and sad about this whole situation. Hoping and praying that you can come up with a better option and maybe the parents can be involved this time. Curious about the 6 to 1 vote. Was the 5 that voted for it have kids that have gone or want them to go everyday? I’m definitely with Karen Morehead.

  • Vance O.

    Sux for me that I had to pay 3 grand to send my kid to kindergarten and now I have to pay property tax levy to send everyone else for free. I understand that you don’t want a socioeconomic divide up in here but you also have eliminated any alternatives. And, annoyed us folks going bankrupt via the economy and various tax increases as we took second jobs to send our kids all day every day. Sacrifice I was willing to do but now others don’t as they can mooch off the system. Good times, good times.

    • Sarah Hildreth

      I don;t appreciate being called a mooch just because the school district changed their rules the year my son is going into kindergarten. There’s no reason for you to call other parents names just because we’re being offered something that wasn’t available when you had a kindergartner.

  • Ted

    This is the 21st Century. This was not just “sprung” on people, Megan. This has been in the works for a LONG time.

    And “Vance”….I’m sure you’ll complain about every “tax increase” you come across.
    It’s such a shame you have to pay your taxes to help educate kids. You’re already paying ridiculously LOW taxes in the Forest Lake area. So you have NOTHING to complain about!!

  • Vance O.

    Actually Ted, you have no idea what you are talking about. I already said I was willing to foot the bill for my own kid which I did so take your misguided angst and shove it!